Anti-Taliban operation kills 23 rebels, two Afghan soldiers (Lead, Changing Dateline)

June 18th, 2008 - 7:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Kandahar, June 18 (DPA) Two Afghan soldiers and 23 Taliban militants including foreign fighters were killed in an Afghan-NATO offensive which begun Wednesday on Taliban-held villages in southern Afghanistan, officials said. Hundreds of Taliban fighters took over the villages in Arghandab district in southern Kandahar province Sunday night, posing a threat to Kandahar city 20 km south and strategic links from the capital Kabul to the southern and western provinces of the country.

At least 20 militants, including foreign fighters, were killed in NATO-led airstrikes in Tabeen village in Arghandab district, the defence ministry said in a statement.

The statement said two Afghan national army soldiers and three other rebels were killed in combat elsewhere in the district, separate army statements said.

Ahmad Wali Karzai, younger brother of President Hamid Karzai and head of the provincial council in Kandahar province told reporters in Kandahar city that 650 militants, including a large number of foreign fighters, massed around the district.

Earlier, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force spokesman Mark Laity said “minor clashes” took place during the early hours of the offensive.

Defence Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said government troops had moved inside Arghandab district and vowed the operation would continue until the area was cleared of insurgents.

Ahmadi Wali, a unit commander for district police forces, said small arms’ fire was traded with militants in the first hours of the operation.

He said intelligence reports showed the Taliban fighters were retreating from the villages they recently infiltrated.

Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousif Ahmadi told DPA that insurgent forces repelled the offensive by Afghan and Canadian forces in the district Wednesday.

An ISAF statement predicted the operation would be completed in three days.

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